Cheap Sports Cars: 7 Best Used Performance Models
Any way you slice it, a sporty vehicle is an indulgence, even if you drive a sedan or one of the new breed of SUVs that promises better handling and roadholding than a mainstream car or crossover that costs a lot less.
Where money is an issue, it’s especially hard to justify buying a traditional sports car, like a coupe or roadster, that sacrifices everyday practicality in the name of delivering the most satisfying driving experience.
But just because a sports car is a nice-to-have and not a need-to-have, it doesn’t have to cost all the money in the world. Here are seven used sports cars that deliver legitimate performance at prices that won’t offend your financial advisor. You can view all our used, performance coupes here.
2015-2018 Ford Mustang GT
- Why we like it: The GT is a great blend of classic muscle-car performance with modern sports-car handling.
- Specifications: 5.0L V8; 435 hp/400 lb-ft; 6-speed manual/automatic transmission or 10-speed automatic (2018)
The Ford Mustang has a decades-long history of providing muscle-car performance in a compact and affordable package. In the car’s modern era, the sixth-generation model introduced in 2015 is, in our opinion, the best all-rounder for its independent rear suspension, which boasts better handling than the solid live axle used in earlier versions.
If performance was our only criteria for this article, our choice would be the Mustang’s 526-hp Shelby GT350 variant. But with budget a key part of the brief, the more conventional GT is still a terrific muscle car with a 5.0L V8 making 435 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque.
Big V8s are known for their low-end torque – like this 460-hp 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 we recently reviewed putting down 420 lb-ft of torque. The Mustang’s 5.0 has lots of it, but it also revs to 7,300 rpm (which is sport compact four-cylinder territory) to generate a surprising amount of high-end power. That characteristic works well with the independent rear suspension, which offers confident handling but will still let you swing the back end out in a power slide.
2018 Mustang GT may be the best-value of the sixth-generation model
In 2018, Ford updated the Mustang’s drivetrain with an optional 10-speed automatic transmission to replace the previous six-speed. The V8 performs well with both of those automatics, but a six-speed manual is part of the Mustang’s standard configuration if you like to shift for yourself. The sixth-gen Mustang is still in showrooms today, but we’ve used 2018 as our cut-off, as those cars will have a few years of depreciation under their belts.
On the practical side, the Mustang has a useful trunk, and its front seats are spacious and comfortable enough to make it well-suited to daily driving.
Shop our used Ford Mustangs here.
2006-2015 Mazda MX-5
- Why we like it: Open-air driving, classic styling, and unbeatable driving feel at affordable prices
- Specifications: 2.0L four-cylinder; 158-170 hp/140 lb-ft; six-speed manual/automatic transmission
There are few modern cars that offer as pure a driving experience as the MX-5, and that’s especially true of the car’s older generations, which are lighter and more straightforward than the newer versions.
To us, the third-generation MX-5 introduced in 2005 combines the best of old and new: It feels more substantial than the one that came before, but offers a more direct connection to the road than the current fourth-gen model that arrived in 2016.
If you find a Mazda Miata for sale with a manual transmission, snatch it up
The MX-5’s modest power means it’s hard to exceed your limits as a driver even if you’re going flat-out; the suspension and steering are so communicative and balanced that you’re always aware of how close you are to the car’s cornering limits.
If you’re a hardcore driving enthusiast, the MX-5’s standard stickshift is one of the best you’ll find in any car, sporty or not, but Mazda makes this car accessible to all with an automatic option whose only detriment is that it comes with a bit less power.
That the MX-5 comes only as a convertible adds to its charm, making it one of the most affordable ways to enjoy open-air driving.
Here’s our current inventory of used Mazda vehicles – possibly with a pre owned MX-5 available in your region.
2013-2020 Subaru BR-Z / 2013-2016 Scion FR-S / 2017-2020 Toyota 86
- Why we like it: A well-balanced chassis provides great driving feel and rewarding handling
- Specifications: 2.0L four-cylinder; 200-205 hp/151-156 lb-ft; six-speed manual/automatic transmissions
This trio of sports car models has a complicated history. Jointly developed by Toyota and Subaru, it was launched in 2013 as the Subaru BRZ and the Scion FR-S, the latter part of Toyota’s now-defunct youth-oriented brand. When Scion went away, the FR-S became the Toyota 86, whose name is a callback to a 1980s Corolla variant now revered by fans of drift racing.
BRZ vs FR-S – two Japanese coupes offering huge value with near identical performance
While the Subaru and Scion/Toyota versions of this car offer subtle differences in performance, either one boasts excellent steering feel and responsiveness and balanced handling, traits that make them easy and fun to drive quickly. Some owners and reviewers wished for more power, but the engine’s modest output means you can drive flat-out with little risk of overwhelming the capable chassis.
Some later versions of the first-gen BRZ and FR-S/86 were offered with upgraded suspension dampers and Brembo brakes, which boost this little coupe’s roadholding even further.
The BRZ, FR-S and 86 are also comfortable and fuel-efficient daily drivers. If we have a BRZ for sale, you’ll find it in our used Subaru inventory here.
2015-2020 Nissan 370Z NISMO
- Why we like it: An old-school sports car that commands respect and some performance driving skill
- Specifications: 3.7L V6; 332 hp/270 lb-ft; six-speed manual transmission
Introduced in 2009, the Nissan 370Z was the sixth generation of the brand’s vaunted line of Z sports cars, which traces its lineage to the 240Z of the 1970s.
Nissan coupe with 6-speed manual a NISMO exclusive
A few years later, Nissan gave the 370Z the NISMO (short for Nissan Motorsports) treatment, which bolstered the car’s performance credentials with lightweight wheels, a free-flowing exhaust, and a sport-tuned suspension. While other 370Z trims could be optioned with a seven-speed automatic transmission, Nissan offered the NISMO only with a six-speed manual.
The 370Z NISMO is not for the faint of heart when it comes to aggressive driving. Its upgraded suspension boasts terrific grip and handling, but the stiff ride makes the NISMO challenging to use as a daily driver. The 3.7L V6 sounds good, and its relatively high-revving nature makes it easier to power through corners drama-free than in a torquier V8-powered car.
Among the 370Z’s few high-tech driving touches is a rev-matched downshift function. It automatically revs the engine when you select a lower gear for smoother deceleration into tight corners. If you don’t like it, a simple button near the shifter shuts it off.
If you’re looking for an affordable track-ready car that requires old-fashioned driving skill, the 370Z NISMO fits the bill.
2019-2022 Hyundai Veloster N
- Why we like it: Surprisingly good performance at affordable prices
- Specifications: 2.0L four-cylinder, turbocharged; 275 hp/260 lb-ft of torque; six-speed manual/eight-speed dual-clutch automatic
When the first-gen Hyundai Veloster arrived about a decade ago, it was a fun-looking car whose handling did not live up to the promises of its sporty styling.
Buy a Hyundai Veloster N hatchback for sale over a used Golf R or Civic Type R
A second-generation model introduced in 2019 was a better car all around, but the star of the lineup was the 275-hp Veloster N, whose trim designation was inspired by the Nurburgring racetrack where Hyundai honed the car’s suspension.
Suddenly, Hyundai had a hot hatch that could keep up with the likes of a VW Golf R or Honda Civic Type R – in a straight line or the twisties – but with the Korean company’s usual focus on value for money. That translates to the used marketplace, where the Veloster N remains more affordable than its Golf or Civic competitors.
The 2.0L turbo engine is backed up by a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. With the latter, the engine gets an “overboost” function that will crank out up to 278 lb-ft of torque for a brief burst of acceleration. With either transmission, the Veloster N comes standard with an adaptive damping suspension and a limited-slip differential to help its front-wheel drivetrain put power to pavement.
2014-2016 Chevrolet Corvette C7
- Why we like it: The C7 was the best-looking Corvette in years, and boasts the big performance expected of an iconic American sports car
- Specifications: 6.2L V8; 455-460 hp/460 lb-ft; seven-speed manual, or six/eight-speed automatic transmission
In 2014, Chevrolet rolled out the seventh generation of its iconic Corvette sports car, the first in nearly 40 years to use the Stingray designation.
2014 Corvette is the used C7 topping our value list
Like all Corvettes before it, the 2014 Stingray is powered by a big V8 engine, this one displacing 6.2 litres and generating as much as 460 hp in the car’s base configuration. In the C7, Chevrolet hooked that big motor to a standard seven-speed manual transmission or an automatic with six or, starting in 2015, eight speeds. Either way, hang on, because all that power goes to the rear wheels, which is lots of fun, but commands great respect when accelerating through corners. At full throttle, the V8 sounds great, but settles down for quiet, low-rev running in sustained highway driving.
A C7 Corvette can’t boast the kind of buttoned-down handling its European competitors are known for, but it makes up for that with massive straight-line thrust and more accessible prices on the used market.
Corvette C7 interior improved significantly over the pre-2014 models
The C7’s interior was a big improvement over that of the previous-gen model. It’s both nicer to look at and better put together. The seats are both comfortable for relaxed cruising and supportive for enthusiastic cornering and track driving.
If you’re keen on optimizing the Corvette’s handling, look for one with the optional Z51 package, which combines a slick magnetic ride control suspension with different gearing for quicker acceleration. Chevrolet produced the C7 until 2019, but limiting your search to the 2016 model year will get you the same big performance for a lot less cash.
2009-2015 Audi TTS
- Why we like it: Classic styling combined with European performance and all-weather traction
- Specifications: 2.0L turbo four-cylinder; 265 hp/258 lb-ft; six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission
The Audi TT has enjoyed impressive staying power for a car introduced more than 20 years ago and whose basic shape has changed little during that time. Today’s TT sports sharper-edged styling than the original, but that reflects how Audi has also sharpened the car’s performance with sportier variants like the TTS.
Audi TT-RS is built for the track – go for a used TTS for sale instead
This is the Goldilocks of the TT lineup, boasting more power and a more capable chassis than the base model, but with less track-ready harshness than the wild TT-RS.
The TTS’s turbo four-cylinder engine’s best trick is that it feels stronger than its power ratings suggest. Standard all-wheel drive traction helps, putting the engine’s torque to the road with little drama and even less wheelspin.
In most years, Audi offered the TTS exclusively with an S-Tronic six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and while this may disappoint some especially enthusiastic drivers, the S-Tronic is a good fit with its lightning-quick shifts, especially when set to sport mode.
Finally, while we like Audi’s latest digital gauge displays and infotainment system, the second-gen TTS’s less-flashy cabin is a model of stylish simplicity with its analog gauges and lack of touchscreens.
Any used Audi coupes – including a 2009 to 2015 TTS – will be in our Audi inventory here.